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Growing up in the chemical wasteland that is Zaun is difficult for most people, but impossible for the orphans. A Nihil Fili, or a Child of Nothing, is considered to be an atrocity,even with true abominations roaming the streets at night. They symbolize Zaun's failures, and who likes to be reminded of that? Janna fights for her survival as she grows up alone.
Rated T for mild language and violence
It was cold. The chilling wind clawed at my raggedy tunic and whipped my stinging hair about my body. Spikes of pain shot through my bare toes and up my calves as I stepped in puddles of ice water. I could no longer feel the tips of my fingers. The sheets from the downpour forced me to keep my head low and made it all but impossible to see more than a few paces before me. Everyone was locked away in their houses, safe and sound, assuming they had one. Not many these days had that luxury, especially in Zaun. For those that did, the merchants hiding inside were far away from their wares, and I had recently "acquired" a key to one of their storage units. I would only have one shot of using it before the locks were switched. Now would be the only time to not be caught by guards. If I wanted to eat tonight, I had to chance the storm.
I hid behind the wall of a dilapidated building and waited for the gale to pass. While nature could always turn unpredictable, I began to notice a certain rhythm in the gusts. I would feel in my gut moments before a mighty wind would blow through the area. Once the current one passed, I sprinted down a block and hid behind another wall, all the while trying to stay inconspicuous. If anyone decided to check on the weather through their window and notice me, they would undoubtedly tell the food vendor their suspicions of who liberated their goods. Streets passed slowly as I had to take cover for long stretches of time, but the gnawing hunger urged me to continue. I was at the beginning of the alleyway with the targeted storage unit when an unexpected gust knocked me backwards, feet losing their place on the ground. My body twisted painfully as the storm blew me away. Be it through the good grace of the gods or survival instincts kicking in, my reflexes snapped me into a flip to realign myself, and I crouched low to keep my balance. Though I was amazed with my good fortune, I had no time to dwell on the thought. The wind had abided, and I took the opportunity to dart around the corner to my destination.
I pulled out the key from my soaking waist bag and pushed it into the lock pad. Praying to the gods above with a few lines for hope and forgiveness, I twisted the metal hilt. It would not budge. Baffled, I tried again, only to receive the same result. Panic swelled through my head, and I furiously turned the key unsuccessfully. My stomach gave that peculiar sensation that alerted me of my limited time. "Please, please, please," I prayed under my breath. I glanced over my shoulder to see a lone tree, gnarled and bare from continuous pollution, billowing before the coming powerful gale. "Damn it," I cried, pounding the door with my fist. There was nowhere to take cover as the mighty winds blew my way. "Please..." I begged as I stared up at the heavens. "I'm too hungry for this." Whether it was more luck or someone above had heard me, the door creaked ajar. With only moments to spare, I slid through the opening and slammed it shut behind me. I crawled under a table placed against the inner wall and held my head, fetal position style, as the raging storm cut through the heart of Zaun, unleashing its mounting fury. The lone window of the building violently shook, threatening to break from the ferocity of the winds. It was then that the rain smashing against the tin roof grew louder. It had turned into a hailstorm. "When I get out of this place, I swear to visit everyone's temples to make sure I properly thank whoever is watching me tonight."
The storm continued pounding away at the building, the sounds forming a calming rhythm. I fell asleep, dripping and freezing, under the table, but I was safe. The trek through the rain and wind had drained me, more so without food. When I opened my eyes again, faint light poured from the window. I sighed with relief that the storm had finally passed overhead and that I was alive to enjoy the next day. "It's morning!" I realized with horror. The merchants usually rose at sunrise to set up their booths, and though I could not tell the time, the presence of light was all I needed to hurry my movements. Above the sanctuary of a table I had sat under had hardened, palm-sized cakes. Sugar in large quantities usually made me ill, but with the current choices of this or nothing, I rushed to stash them all in my still-wet pouch. A small brown bag hid beneath volumes of important papers, but I only reached for the curiosity. Tugging at the strings, the bag opened to reveal coins. Gold coins. "I'm so sorry," I apologized to my guardian god as I tied the new pouch to my waist.
As I exited the storage unit, I silently cursed myself a thousand and one times for not looking both ways first. While I casually stepped out, red-handed with goods, the very same merchant I had borrowed from and his guards had entered the alleyway. We locked eyes for one long heartbeat, the greatest insult I could have given. Before they could react, I leaped up, grabbing on the tin roof's edge and pulled myself up and over. "Don't just stand there! Get it!" I cringed at his words but refused to stay still long enough to be caught. I ran across the top of the building.
"On it, boss!" answered his men, and they sprinted to the end of the alleyway, mimicking my motions and joining me for a rooftop chase. I was far younger than the chasing brutes, and my youth gave me an energy advantage over them. They, however, had the longer legs. Climbing across connecting roofs, I desperately sought to put more distance between me and my pursuers. My muscles were stiff from my poor night's sleep, and I had yet to have eaten since two days before. I focused on primal fear to blot out any rational thinking, allowing adrenaline to course freely through my veins. Still, my body could not completely overcome the weariness.
"It stole this month's profits!" shrieked the merchant, back at the storage unit. "Don't you dare let it escape or your next salaries will be docked until you can replace the amount!" The loud shouting and our booming footfalls stirred people from their slumber, and the streets began to fill with eyes watching the events unfold.
I noticed with dread the approaching edge of the house's roof leading to the new block. The new roof was across, more than my height thrice in distance. I peered over my shoulder to see the brutes still on my heels. The merchant's voice had promised infinite tortures for my actions while the leap had a slim chance of salvation. "Please, please, please..." I begged as I picked up speed. My toes dangled off the gutter's edge before my body sprang forward, hurling over the great expanse.
Faces in the crowded excitedly pointed, some jeered while others laughed mockingly. "It dares to run?" hushed whispers echoed amongst the collective. "Why bother?" "Will it make it?" I propelled myself forward with swimming motions, unsure of what else would help. My view of the rooftop began to fall, and I realized I definitely would not land on my feet, if I made it at all. My hands frantically reached out for a grasping point, anything. My fingertips grazed the top, but my body had already fallen too far. I tumbled down to the pavement below. I clenched my eyes shut, anticipating the excruciating pain. Instead of colliding with the ground, my plummet came to a peaceful and complete halt. Where the crowd had only murmured quietly before, they had all stopped to gasp. One eye peeked slightly from my scared lids, afraid of what had happened. I saw nothing unusual. Both of my eyes opened fully, but still I could not understand.
Why have I not hit yet? I wondered. No one had caught me, for surely I would have felt the impact on the arms saving me. I peered at the crowd, hoping they would reveal a clue, but they stared blankly back at me. It was then that it occurred that I should check beneath my body. I finally understood why the townsfolk had been staring the whole while. My body was floating above the ground. "What in the...?" I mumbled quietly. Whatever had held me aloft released its hold on me, and I dropped softly at last to the ground. "Thank you, kind and understanding god for saving me again," I whispered, praising the sky above me.
"It's still alive!" a harsh tone called, and I realized that my fall had only taken a matter of seconds, not the hours it had felt. I was still being pursued. Choosing to flee from the sea of faces, I darted down the alley I had failed to leap across. The men carefully climbed down the building behind me, giving me plenty of time to make up for the lost time. "Stop, you nihil fili!" I cringed once more but continued running. The alley split into two directions, and, without a second thought, I chose left. About halfway down, however, I cursed myself once more for not looking both ways. It was a dead end. I turned around to try and recover the lost ground, but the guards had already poured in. "There is nowhere else for you to run," cruelly chuckled the closest one.
"If you come with us willingly, we can at least spare you any pain on your escort to our employer," the second one said, his voice kinder than any other that had spoken to me. I almost volunteered to join him anywhere he would take me, but the first man took another step towards me.
"Speak for yourself, Pilrus. It deserves all the punishment it can get!" I cowered back a few paces away from him.
"And I will be happy to take it upon myself to deal out justice as I see fit," a third man stated behind the guards. The duo whirled to greet the stranger. His face was wrinkled from many years of life, and his silver hair fell about his neck, but his eyes held an exuberance of years still left to spend.
"Move aside, gramps. It's not your granddaughter. It's one of them," the first guard retorted.
"I think I would be the first to know whether she is or isn't my granddaughter," he stated, drawing incredulous stares from all three of us. "And it would appear that my name no longer caries meaning with the new generation. How sad to not remember your elders."
"Look, old man. We've got business to attend to, so if you don't mind the history lecture, we're leaving now."
"I don't think it would be wise to disrespect him so, Cal," Pilrus whispered to his partner.
"Why not?" he returned, unabashedly loud.
"Don't you know the Master of the Academy Magicka?" I sucked in a breath to keep accidentally speaking. I did not wish to be further punished.
"Ah, it warms my heart to know you youngins still have respect for us. Now, young lady," he continued, addressing me again to everyone's shock. "I believe you took some things that did not belong to you. Why don't you give them back, hmm?"
"We're supposed to take it with us," Cal muttered gruffly.
"But if she," electing another startled gasp from me, "gives everything back, where's the harm?" he persuaded gently. "I'll be sure to inform your employer of all the details, including how cooperative you were today. A merchant gaining my favor surely comes with perks, wouldn't you say?"
"Yes, definitely," Pilrus quickly agreed. After a hard stare to Cal, the man nodded his consent of the situation.
"Come, my dear child," he beckoned. I glanced nervously from face to face, careful to not meet their eyes, before taking a step forward. "I assure you that you are safe. All you must do is give over everything these good men are searching for." I untied the two bags from my waist and approached Pilrus. He smiled warmly as I dropped the pouches in his hands. "There we go. And now we're off." The Master walked several paces back out the alley before turning around. "Do you wish to stay with these two gentlemen, then?" he asked, his face displaying a kind smirk, if that was a possible description. I furiously shook my head and sprinted behind him, following in his footsteps.
He led me through a series of winding, back road alleys. The sun was already at its peak before he spoke again. "There is no reason to trail behind me like that. Come, walk with me." I did not wish to anger him, but I wanted to show the man all the respect I was capable of giving. He had saved me from gods only know what the merchant had in mind for me, not to mention he... saw me. He saw beyond the cultural bounds and looked at me, not through. I remained in the shade of his shadow. It was the one thing I could do for him. The Master spun on his heels and placed his hands squarely on my shoulders, starring deep into my eyes. Panicked at the motion, I immediately closed my eyes. I did not wish to insult him. "You are no longer a nihil fili, so there is no reason to abide by that any longer." Before I could regain control, tears streamed down my face. "No longer are you a Child of Nothing, and so you will not be treated as one. Tell me, young one, what is your name?"
For the first time in seven years, I spoke to someone other than myself and the gods. "My... my name is Janna."
This will be updated secondary, with To The Edge of Light's Reach as my primary focus. I'm taking a small break to hear back from fans as to what to do with a couple of events. In the meantime, I thought I'd post this to get your opinions. Janna needs some love.